It was 4pm. I was awakened from my afternoon nap by the continuous splashing sound outside. I got up & came out at the balcony of my hotel, what a wonderful scene awaited me! The dark green mangrove forests looked even brighter & youthful with the continuous shower! As if the forest was dancing in the rain! I just stood there, enjoying the beauty, the delicacy, the mysticism of nature & time flowed by, unnoticed.
I am just remembering the description provided by my tour operator, which goes like – “With just a few hours’ drive from Kolkata, the atmosphere simply starts changing as you cross the Bhagirathi River & enter the forest area. You start enjoying nature & your mind automatically goes into a peaceful state. The greenery of the forests soothes your eyes & the mind. The forest here is not so dense that it will be unable to see the sun during the day time. Here you can find the tall ‘Sundari’ trees with their roots spread wide & the mangrove forests that exclusive of the Sundarban area.”
Yes! It’s SUNDARBAN, a major mangrove rainforest, the home of Royal Bengal Tiger. My tour was really accomplished with the wish to be lost on my own by feeling the total bliss in nature! But, as I was getting more & more engrossed in the beauty of nature, somewhere in the back of my mind a thought continuously poked me, which gave me an uncanny feeling! Shall we be able to enjoy this beauty for long? Shall our next generations get the privilege to witness this experience for many more years in the future?
I became thoughtful & came back to my room. Ordered coffee with some snacks, which are served without much delay, by a boy aged around 25. After getting 30Rs as tips, he happily shared that he studied till school final, and instead going for his used-to family profession of bamboo-furniture and farming, starts working in the hotel and earning happily. Also his friends are earning well, working as local guide or tourist taxi or just by with a tea-cigarette stall nearby.
Yesterday, at hotel lobby, I heard some local people discussing that, the rate of fish is going high, and they agreed upon that the raise in demand in local tourist lodge and hotels are one of the prime reason. And the second prime reason is decreasing availability. That the starting point, from where my mind is sensing a different vibes. It is obvious that tourism results in socio-economical raise in the tourist area, and creates a grape-vain effect of money, which flows from tourist activity to all level of society. And it’s quite obvious that, we work for a better tomorrow, especially for our family. Like the boy working in the hotel, lots of people have shifted from their family traditional work towards something more promising. They are earning well. So they are spending well too. Instead of cycle, they are using two-wheelers. Public & private vehicals increased, with better Roadways. Their brother-sisters or wards going for higher education, as new high-school and colleges are coming up too. Being happy with the social prosperity some of the farmers has just given away their firming land to schools, colleges, hospitals without a single penny in return, just for a better tomorrow. Women with children, whose husbands once get attacked & took away by tiger while collecting honey, are now can get work in lodges & hotels in cleaning and housekeeping works. A progress is visible to all levels of society. A happy better tomorrow is visible to all. Even in city, the tour agents are happy too, with increasing tourism to Sundarban.
But, is it really better tomorrow we are going to? Behind this happy-happy picture, a picture of alarming tomorrow is coming in my mind. Here I am just putting the pieces of such picture, as I have felt.
Due to increase in water pollution, water resources going down. Fishermen shifting from old methods to advance trollers. But number of fishermen decreasing day by day. Use of lands for construction rising. Increase in population, supported with increased income, demands more land for civilization. Often these lands get deducted from forest buffer area or farmland. Increased use of modern livelihood facilities affects nature. Generations shifting from country-professions towards City-professions, resulting civil growth. But it removes the flavor of country side nature. This may be slow, very slow, but strongly steady. If it is the left hand of the picture, here comes the right hand.
Farmers selling their lands as not only because their next generations are not going to the same profession, but also due to increasingly damaged lands, as sea is encroaching. Sundarban, as a matter of fact, is a source of wood for fuel as well as furniture & decoration. In spite of legal constraint, it is being cut by locals, illegally & unscientifically. Survey shows, effects of recent cyclones and storms, which are previously got absorbed by the dense forest, are now-a-days more aggressively devastating. More we are becoming civilized, more we are being affected by the nature itself.
Although the main attraction of Sundarban is the Royal Bengal Tiger & lots of time I hear people asking, “Shall we surely get to see the tiger?”, but the greatest enjoyment is to feel the natural beauty of the forest, The Sundarban, the major mangrove forest among the two of INDIA. The recent cyclone, “Aila”, left nearly 130 tigers without trace. Use of troller for fishing, added a few varieties of rear dolphin spices in the list of extinct, which were found only at this part of world. As more we are interacting with the forest, more the natural flora & fauna becomes endangered. Lots of birds, fishes and other water creatures, trees, animals are slowly but steadily going extinct.
In this context also, a question comes in the mind, do the tourists really feel/care for the forest or, do they just think about their personal fun/pleasure? When the tourists come in large groups & visit the Sundarban, mainly to get a glimpse of the tiger, they are generally taken deeper & deeper into the forest. This entry into the silent, calm, quiet, peaceful forest, not only disturbs the wild animals, but also harms the ecological balance of the forest. As Sundarban emerges as one of the major tourist spots of Asia, more & more hotels (or ‘Villas’) are coming up. Those ‘Villas’ have the look of a village with cottage-type rooms, mostly built in the inner parts of the forests or adjacent, for the tourists to get a better view of the wild animals, including the tiger, sitting in their rooms itself. They are equipped with all the modern amenities & ironically, also facilitate the destruction of the ecological balance. Declaring it as a world heritage site may have fastened the process.
Post ‘Aila’, the economy of the Sundarban has suffered a lot & the lifestyle of the local people is also being affected. But, people are trying hard, with the help of the Government, to revive it as one of the major tourist spots of West Bengal. Now, the local people are lot more involved in the activities of tourism as it fetches them more money, instead of getting involved in cultivation, fishery, honey collection, that involves a lot more hard work, with comparatively less amount of money. Hence, it’s quite obvious that the local people find it quite easier & profitable to be involved in the tourist activities. But, they are quite oblivion to the fact that, at the end of all this what is actually in danger is the ecological balance of the Sundarban.
When we, as tourists, enjoy the place as a spot of relaxation, beauty & peace, then, is it not our responsibility to feel for it, too? Why do we have to be bound by rules & norms to maintain the natural balance of the place where we go to spend our leisure time? Why don’t we think by ourselves how to keep the place neat & clean, how not to spoil it by our harmful pollution by making too much noise, too much light, too much use of plastic etc. why don’t we take care about the wild animals & tend to disturb them, who are actually very helpful to the nature? It’s high time we re-think, re-consider & recapitulate our thoughts & do feel for the nature, its trees, its animals, its birds, its fishes, its insects – for our better living on this earth! Even the local people should realize the importance of nature. They must think to leave nature at its best, without any further destruction, as, only then can tourism survive, which actually will benefit the local people & improve their economical condition, too. It’s just like the ecological cycle of life – everything is interlinked. Instead of cutting down trees, building new hotels, thinking of new ways to promote tourism, it’s more important to maintain the ecological system of the forest – as, only then can tourism be promoted. If we tend to destroy Mother Nature to increase tourism, it’s we, who will be the sufferers in the long run. May be initially tourism will be on the rise, but after some years, as the delicacy & beauty of the place will die, tourism will also decrease & the total ecological balance of the nature will be disturbed. This will not only affect the localities, but all the people & country, as a whole.
This article on Sunderban and responsible Tourism has been published in the Where and What in the World , on 27th July, 2013.
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